Happy end­ing for young Mull ot­ters

The Oban Times - - Leisure -

WHEN a Mull res­i­dent opened his door to find a vis­i­tor hold­ing ‘a bun­dle of fluff’ a year ago, nei­ther he nor the vis­i­tor knew what to do.

It was an aban­doned ot­ter cub – floppy, still, eyes closed. But he knew who to ask – Jane Stevens of the Mull Ot­ter Group (MOG).

Jane quickly ar­rived with re­hy­dra­tion fluid which she fed to the cub, drop by drop. An hour later her eyes opened and her head lifted.

At that stage, Jane de­cided the seven-week-old cub (later named Gri­bun) could be moved. For a week, Jane nursed the lit­tle crea­ture back to strength with reg­u­lar feeds of puppy milk sup­ple­ment, and af­ter two days with trout, which Gri­bun ‘wolfed down’.

Colin Sed­don, the SSPCA’s wildlife cen­tre man­ager, con­tin­ued the young­ster’s care at Fishcross where an­other ot­ter cub had been res­cued.

He said: ‘Luck­ily, both ot­ters were around eight weeks old, so we were able to in­tro­duce them to each other and al­low them to de­velop to­gether. It’s im­por­tant to rear ot­ter cubs in groups as they de­pend on play and in­ter­ac­tion with their own kind to learn life skills.’

By Fe­bru­ary this year, the cubs were around a year old: about the age at which they nor­mally would be start­ing to be­come in­de­pen­dent of their moth­ers.

Gri­bun and her friend Rush were be­com­ing in­creas­ingly frus­trated in the con­fines of their pens and were more than ready to re­turn to the wild.

It was de­cided to do a soft re­lease, which in­volved free­ing the ot­ters at a se­cret shel­tered piece of re­mote coast­line, along with ar­ti­fi­cial holts and sup­ple­men­tary food put out daily.

MOG’s Nigel Burch checked the area to make sure they were not re­leased on to an­other ot­ter’s ter­ri­tory. As both are fe­male, a dog ot­ter would ac­cept them. The fre­quency of feeds has since been re­duced grad­u­ally as warmer seas mean in­creased fish stocks and be­cause care­ful mon­i­tor­ing shows the ot­ters are ca­pa­ble of feed­ing them­selves. Tried and tested, this method has been highly successful in Shet­land.

Jane said: ‘The ot­ters were qui­etly re­leased one at a time on the beach. Rush raced across the beach, made a bee­line for some sheds and hid un­der some crates. She was likely to stay there un­til we all cleared off, so we left her a fish.

‘Gri­bun was re­leased close to the water. She dived straight in and swam to some rocks in the dis­tance, where she re­mained for a while and then we lost sight of her.’

Nigel and Jane have since vis­ited the site sev­eral times and have been de­lighted to see (from a very good dis­tance) the ot­ters out at sea, fish­ing and go­ing to rocks to con­sume large fish, say­ing: ‘So we know they are hunt­ing for them­selves, swim­ming, fish­ing, chat­ter­ing to­gether and gen­er­ally look­ing like happy ot­ters. Our cam­era trap showed them tak­ing the fish left for them.

‘They are look­ing ex­tremely healthy and ex­hibit­ing nor­mal ot­ter be­hav­iour. Such a great fin­ish to a long jour­ney. It makes Mull Ot­ter Group’s work so worth­while.’

The re­turn to the wild could only work with the strong sup- port of ded­i­cated lo­cals, will­ing to take the time to dis­creetly mon­i­tor and to put out fresh fish daily over a sub­stan­tial pe­riod of time. Ob­vi­ously they can­not be named, in or­der to safe­guard the ot­ters.

Thanks for the fish to the Tiro­ran Ho­tel, Lucie Howard, Bob Hastie, Sheila Barnard, Ard­more Fish, Oban Sea Life Cen­tre, Nic Davies (Tober­mory Ot­ter Fund) and the SSPCA.

To watch film of the two ot­ters and for fur­ther up­dates, visit www.mul­lot­ter­group.co.uk or the Mull Ot­ter Group Face­book page.

Please re­mem­ber to al­ways seek in­formed ad­vice be­fore at­tempt­ing to res­cue any in­jured or ‘lost’ wild an­i­mal.

Pho­to­graph: Jane Stevens

A de­lighted Gri­bun makes a bee­line for the sea.

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